A Need For ‘Good Samaritans Law’ In Pakistan?
To help or aid a stranger in dire need of medical assistance ought to be one’s moral, ethical and legal duty – unless of course the circumstances the stranger is in, jeopardizes the life of the bystander (and it is therefore a matter for the police). A bystander who helps a stranger is called a ‘Good Samaritan’. Before the phrase becomes clichéd and its original meaning distorted, it is pivotal to highlight the historical background of the Good Samaritan and the underlying significance. The Bible recounts the parable of the Samaritan (member of the Samaritan tribe), who rescued a traveler stripped of his clothing and robbed by thieves and was left to die. A priest and a Levite passed by but neither aided him – it was only the Samaritan who was magnanimous enough to rescue the traveler, to feed him and to look after him.
The Dictionary of Biblical, Classical & Literary Allusions defines a Good Samaritan as:
“any charitable person, especially one who, like the man in the parable, rescues or helps out a needy stranger.”
It is an extension of the Biblical notion of ‘loving thy neighbour’, a belief reinforced by the Holy Quran as well. All the monotheistic religions have focused on human virtues and the Holy Quran emphasizes on helping humanity as the noblest of all.
Being a Good Samaritan and by extension a good citizen in everyday life, would simply mean being a conscientious human being, putting oneself in another’s shoes and asking oneself the question, ‘If I were in this predicament, what would I want? Would I want a complete stranger to help me or to abandon me?’
If the common person develops a cognizance of his or her moral duty to another, we may witness a semblance of mutual help and understanding of social problems at a basic level.
It is a known fact that emergency services in Pakistan are not as efficient nor as competent as those in other countries, particularly in the West. Ambulances are limited in number and if called, they do not necessarily turn up in time. The paramedic services available are not the best and the police is yet to gain the confidence of the general public. What does this lead to? The ordinary person is at times left to take emergency situations in their own hands – but do they always?
I know from personal experience that people do not always intervene in an emergency situation. Take the case of a guard for example, who fainted due to dehydration in an affluent neighborhood during the course of his duty outside a bungalow. When I fortuitously passed by with my driver I witnessed a number of people attempting to resuscitate him, but no one was willing to take him to the nearest hospital until my driver decided to. When he requested the bystanders accompany us to the hospital, all refused except for one. We did eventually take him to the hospital (which by the way was a stone’s throw away from the bungalow) and thankfully he received immediate medical treatment and recovered. But this episode revealed many shortcomings in our society and legal system.
No one was willing to take on the responsibility of saving a dying man, perhaps fearing liability if he were to die whilst in their care. This could be the fear of facing the police or even the fear of undertaking another’s financial responsibility.
Should principles relating to Good Samaritans therefore be entrenched in the law?
The answer is ‘yes’ – in Pakistan there is most definitely a need for ‘Good Samaritan laws’. It is important to mention that the Pakistani legal system does not have a concrete legal framework on the law of tort nor medical law inter alia. The only law relevant in some way to Good Samaritans is the Punjab Emergency Services Act 2006, but that too specifically focuses on rescue workers and not the ordinary layman who may have little or no knowledge whatsoever about first aid or medicine.
In the UK for example, the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Act 2015 encourages the court to make provision when considering liability of one who may have breached a duty of care when they intervened ‘heroically’ in an emergency situation. The Act is therefore applicable to anyone who volunteers as a Good Samaritan irrespective of whether they are medically qualified or not.
Similarly, in Canada, as per the Ontario Good Samaritan Act 2001, a person has a general duty to respond in an emergency situation irrespective of whether they are a healthcare professional or not. In doing so they are offered protection from liability as long as the damage was not caused by their gross negligence.
What is required in Pakistan is a statute along these lines, which permits a bystander to intervene in case of a medical emergency and to highlight his or her liabilities should the situation get out of hand. Currently, the lack of Good Samaritan laws means people feel imperiled by interfering in another’s predicament fearing the consequences; but clearly this ought to change.
Moreover, courses on first aid are limited in Pakistan with little or no publicity. For example, in Karachi, St John’s Ambulance still offers first aid courses, subject to availability. Such courses should be offered across the board especially by hospitals such as the Agha Khan University Hospital and Indus Hospital.
Furthermore, upon googling I discovered that in Karachi for example, only one Good Samaritan hospital exists in Orangi Town, that too established by South Koreans. This is an initiative that local Pakistanis should take up more seriously.
In a society where harmony and selflessness are fading, I personally feel the concept of Good Samaritans should be legally embedded.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.